Forgive me, dear Estelle, for keeping you waiting. I had
to attend to something for the children.
Here I am back again with you already. I long for your sympathy
whenever anything stirs me deeply.
Well, you know that I shall always sympathize most warmly with
you in your interests.
This play, of which I spoke to you, Outcasts from Body and
from Soul touched me so deeply. Does it seem to you odd when
I say that there were moments when all I had ever known of human
sorrow stood before me? With highest artistic force the work
not only gives the outer mischances happening to so many people,
but also points out with wonderful penetration he deepest agonies
of the soul.
One cannot, I fear, form a proper conception a work of art by
simply hearing of its contents. But would like you to tell me
what stirred you so.
The construction of the play was admirable. The artist wished
to show how a young painter loses all his creative desire, because
he begins to doubt his love for a woman. She had endowed him with
the power to develop his promising talents. Pure enthusiasm for
his art had produced in her the most beautiful love of sacrifice.
To her he owed the fullest development of his abilities in his
chosen field. He blossomed, as it were, in the sunshine of his
benefactress. Constant association with this woman developed his
gratitude into passionate love. This caused him to neglect, more
and more, a poor creature who was faithfully devoted to him, and
who finally died of grief, because she had to confess to herself
that she had lost the heart of the man she loved. When he heard
of her death, the news did not seriously disturb him, for his
heart belonged entirely to his benefactress. Yet he grew ever
more and more certain that her noble feeling of friendship for
him would never turn to passionate love. This conviction drove
all creative joy from his soul, and his inner life grew constantly
more desolate. In this condition of life the poor girl, whom he
had forsaken, came again into his mind, and a wrecked life was
all that resulted from a hopeful and promising man. Without prospect
of a single ray of light he pined away. All this is portrayed
with intense dramatic vividness.
I can easily see how the play must have worked upon your feelings.
As a girl you always suffered intensely at the destiny of such
people, who had been driven to bitterness by heavy misfortunes
in their life.
My dear Sophy; you misunderstand me. I can easily distinguish
between what is real and what is merely artistic. And criticism
fails, I know, if one carries into it the feelings one had in life.
What stirred me here so deeply was the really perfect representation
of a deep problem of life. I was once again able to realize clearly
how art can only mount to such heights, when it keeps close to
the fulness of life. As soon as it departs therefrom, its works
I understand you perfectly when you speak like that. I have always
admired the artists who could represent what you call the reality
of life. And I believe a great many have that power, — especially
nowadays. Nevertheless even the very highest attainments leave
behind them in my soul a certain discomfort For a long time I
was unable to explain this to myself, but one day the light came
that brought the answer.
You mean to tell me, that your conception of the world has dispelled
your appreciation of so-called realistic art.
Dear Estelle, let us not speak of my conception of the world to-day.
You know quite well, that the feeling I have just described was
entirely familiar to me long before I knew anything at all about what
you call my ‘conception of the world.’ And these feelings
are not only aroused in me with reference to so-called realistic
art: but other things also create a similar feeling in me. It
grows especially marked when I become aware of what I might call,
in a higher sense, the want of truth in certain works of art.
There I really cannot follow you.
A vivid grasp of real truth must needs create in the heart a sense
of a certain poverty in works of art. For of course the greatest
artist is always a novice compared with nature in her perfection.
The most accomplished artist fails to give me what I can get from
the revelation of a landscape or a human countenance.
But that is in the nature of the case and cannot be altered.
But it could be altered, if men would only become clear on one
point. They could say that it is irrational for the soul to reproduce
what higher powers have already set before us as the highest works
of art. These same powers have implanted in man an impulse to
continue the great work of creation, in order to give the world
what they themselves have not yet placed before the senses. In
all that man can create, the original powers of creation have
left nature incomplete. Why should he reproduce nature's perfections
in an imperfect form, when he has the ability to change the imperfect
into perfection? If you think of this assertion as changed into
an elemental feeling you will understand why I feel a sense of
distress towards much that you call art. It is distressing to
see an external sense-reality imperfectly, portrayed in realistic
art. On the other hand, the least perfect representation of what
is concealed behind the outwardly observed phenomenon may prove
You are really talking. of something that nowhere exists. No true
artist really tries to give a bare reproduction of nature.
That is just why so many works of art are imperfect; for the
creative function leads of itself beyond nature, and the artist
does not know the appearance of what is outside his senses.
I see no possibility of our coming to any understanding with one
another on this point. It is indeed sad that, in these most important
problems of the soul, my best friend follows views so different
from my own. I hope our friendship may yet fall on better days.
On such a point we shall surely be able to accept whatever life
may bring us.
Au revoir, dear Sophy.
Good-bye, dear Estelle.